MONTREAL – Via Rail won’t establish minimum content requirements for the new trains it plans to order for Canada’s main railway corridor that transports millions of passengers annually.
“As Via Rail is a Crown corporation, the procurement process must be compliant with laws and international treaties,” spokeswoman Mylene Belanger wrote in an email.
The national passenger service said Monday that it will launch a request for qualifications, followed by a request for proposals that will take about a year to complete.
Via said it expects the 32 new trains that will run between Quebec City and Windsor will maintain capacity for 9,100 seats. The first trains are scheduled to enter into service in early 2022, with the remainder delivered two years later.
Belanger said the railway plans to conduct a “fair, open and transparent bidding structure process” accessible to all qualified companies. An independent fairness monitor will follow the procurement process.
Long-term maintenance over the next 30 years will be completed in Canada.
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The lack of minimum content levels recently ruffled some feathers, especially with Bombardier workers, when the Caisse de depot awarded the rolling stock contract for its $6.3-billion electric train project in Montreal to a consortium involving Alstom Transport Canada and a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin.
A spokesman for Bombardier Inc.’s railway division called the Via Rail project interesting.
“The idea that the government wants to introduce elements that will allow this contract to take into account future electrification brings the Bombardier portfolio to the fore,” Jacques Tetrault said in an interview.
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Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced funding Monday included in the recent budget to help Via Rail which he said has been playing an important role for decades in the lives of Canadians that rely on the train.
He said the government has no choice but to have an open bidding process to anyone around the world.
“I hope that there will be local content but we will conform to rules that guide us regarding international commerce,” he said in Ottawa.
About 94 per cent of the nearly four million passengers Via Rail carries annually travel on the Quebec City to Windsor corridor.
Via Rail declined to put an estimate on the required funding to replace its fleet but published reports have pegged the amount at up to $1.5 billion.
The trains promise to reduce environmental emissions with more fuel-efficient engines, enhance accessibility for visually, hearing and physically impaired passengers and improve on-time performance from reduced mechanical breakdowns.
The diesel engines will be able to operate on electricity as the infrastructure becomes available.
Via Rail president Yves Desjardins-Siciliano said the funding will improve service by ensuring uninterrupted access along the busy rail corridor.
“A new modern fleet will provide our travellers with safer, faster, more frequent, more accessible and environmentally friendlier service,” he said.
Some of the old railway cars will be modernized and deployed on transcontinental and regional routes, while others would be sold or recycled, said Belanger.
Ottawa also earmarked $8 million for Transport Canada to conduct economic analysis on a proposed high-frequency rail project between Quebec City and Toronto that would operate on dedicated tracks.
Federal funding would also be used to explore the potential role for the Canada Infrastructure Bank in the project.
Via Rail was created by the federal government in 1977 to take over intercity passenger service provided by Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway.
The company has struggled in the past after being forced to cut staffing and reduce service when its operating funding was slashed in half in 1990.
A decade later, the government provided $402 million five years to purchase new cars.